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Endocrine disrupters and human health

BMJ 2001; 323 doi: (Published 08 December 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;323:1317

Current research will establish baseline indices

  1. Paul T C Harrison, acting director and head of environmental toxicology
  1. MRC Institute for Environment and Health, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 7DD

    Infertility is an emotive issue, and having children is a recognised “right,” so any implication that environmental pollution affects reproduction has to be taken seriously. When the putative causative agents might also be responsible for various cancers and other diseases, then the level of interest that the issue attracts is unsurprising—hence the calls in the early 1990s for action in line with the “precautionary principle.”1 In men hypospadias, cryptorchidism, cancer of the prostate, testicular cancer, and semen quality and in women breast cancer, cystic ovaries, and endometriosis have all been suggested as indicators of adverse trends in reproductive health.2 The idea that these trends are real and are connected with environmental pollution is gaining credence internationally. The effect on human health of environmental chemicals that are mediated through the endocrine system—endocrine disrupters—has generated huge interest and investment. Why is this, and what is the evidence for the assumed association?

    Changes in the sexual morphology of fish exposed to sewage effluent have led some scientists to conjecture that humans also live in a “sea of oestrogens” and that the apparent increases in the incidence of certain reproductive conditions may be due …

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